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Pac-12 Preview Week: A look back at seasons past

We are back to dedicating a full week of coverage to a single conference this week. This week we hit the west coast and dive deep in to the Pac-12 conference. To get things started, we take a look at some of the conference history to see if we can find any similar themes heading in to the 2012 season.

Last Year in the Pac 12

Conference Champion: Oregon (12-2, 8-1)

It was a new era for Pac 12 football. Conference realignment resulted in two new members for the conference as Utah (Mountain West) and Colorado (Big 12) joined the fold. Withthe new members lined up and ready to roll, the Pac-10 re-branded itself somewhat with a new name, logo and the brand new Pac 12 Championship Game. The first year experiment seemed to work in favor of the host Oregon Ducks, who once again reached the BCS stage with a trip to Pasadena, but the conference would send another team to the BCS with Andrew Luck and Stanford getting an invite to the Fiesta Bowl.

LaMichael James and Oregon had the upper hand on Andrew Luck and Stanford in 2011.
LaMichael James and Oregon had the upper hand 
on Andrew Luck and Stanford in 2011.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck once again had one of the top performances of the season in college football, but even he was not enough to get the Cardinal past the Oregon Ducks. Luck finished the season with a completion percentage of 71.3 and a 169.7 pass efficiency rating. With the Cardinal thinking big BCS dreams with an unblemished record and hosting Oregon on November 12, Luck threw two interceptions for the only time all season and Oregon’s offense proved too much to handle for Stanford’s defense. Oregon took the game in Palo Alto by a 53-30 decision and once again remained the team to beat in the Pac 12.

A week later, that is exactly what USC did. The Trojans sent a little bit of a message to the rest of the conference, and perhaps the nation, with a thrilling 38-35 victory in Eugene. The message form Matt Barkley, Lane Kiffin and company was that the USC Trojans were still ready to prove they will be the team to beat in 2012. Further driving that point home came in the regular season finale for USC with a 50-0 thumping of cross town rival UCLA, who was heading to the Pac-12 championship game at Oregon’s campus the following week as a benefit of USC’s NCAA postseason ban last fall. UCLA was blown away by Oregon for the right to play in the Rose Bowl, despite a late rally to provide a false sense of hope.

Oregon would play another thriller in Pasadena, going back and forth against Big Ten champion Wisconsin in what could only be described as a see-saw battle of offense. When the final seconds ticked off the clock (much to the frustration of Badgers fans), Oregon finally celebrated a BCS victory after two straight seasons of disappointing endings.

Stanford, in the Fiesta Bowl, played another game made for offense, against Oklahoma State. The Cardinal would not be so fortunate as their division rivals, losing in overtime to the Big 12 champions.

5 Years Ago in the Pac-10

2007 Conference Champion: USC (11-2, 7-2)

The USC Trojans began the season as the number one team in college football, and would go on to win the Rose Bowl against a Big Ten runner-up (Illinois), but the downfall of the Trojan Empire and a transition of power may have come in early October, when the USC faithful were left stunned by what happened against Stanford. Leading 23-14 in the fourth quarter USC was feeling pretty good about avoiding an upset to the pesky Stanford team coached by Jim Harbaugh, his first season on the job. But a late field goal and touchdown pass from Tavita Pritchard to Mark Bradford with 49 seconds remaining put Stanford on top, 24-23, and USC would not have enough to pick up a game-winning field goal. USC’s national title hopes appeared to be dashed, but it was a loss at Oregon that essentially put a nail in the coffin in late October.

USC was not done dominating just yet, but the 
2007 season was clearly a transition of power year
in the Pac 10.

This season the Trojans were led by John David Booty under center with 2,361 passing yards and 23 touchdowns to ten interceptions. His back-up, Mark Sanchez, passed for 695 yards and seven touchdowns as he was groomed to be the next starter for USC’s most recent run at college football dominance.

While USC was appearing to fall back to the pack after a few years on top of the college football world, it was the Ducks who were starting to become the top program in the west. After starting the year outside the AP Top 25, the Ducks started to creep up the rankings as quarterback Dennis Dixon was on his way to Pac 10 Player of the Year honors. The Ducks opened the season with a sound victory over Houston (perhaps more notable for the mascot fight) and a resounding victory at Michigan (a week after the Appalachian State upset). Oregon actually moved up the rankings following a loss to No. 6 California in a crazy week, and Oregon’s home win against USC was seen as the arrival of Oregon as a contender. Oregon climbed to number two in the rankings in November but a road loss to Arizona followed by a road loss at UCLA without Dixon proved the Ducks still had some work to do. Oregon ended the regular season with a loss at home to rival Oregon State, dropping the Ducks out of the top 25, but they ended on a high note with a blowout win against No. 23 South Florida in the Sun Bowl, 56-21.

When the season started UCLA was ranked in the AP top 15, and they inched up to No. 11 after a 3-0 start against Stanford and BYU, but they ran in to a buzz saw in a road game at Utah. The future Pac-12 rivals demolished the Bruins, 44-6. UCLA plummeted out of the top 25 and has not been ranked higher than No. 23 in the AP poll since (lasted one week at start of 2008 season).

20 Years Ago in the Pac-10

1992 Conference Champion: Stanford (10-3, 6-2), Washington (9-3, 6-2)

The Washington Huskies ended the previous season with a split national championship and were looking to make sure there was no doubt who the bets team in college football was in 1992.

Drew Bledsoe
Drew Bledsoe passed for 3,246 yards and was
named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year.

Captained by quarterback Mark Brunell and tackle Lincoln Kennedy, the pre-season No. 2 Huskies stormed out of the gate with solid victories against Arizona and Wisconsin and continued with home wins against No. 12 Nebraska, No. 20 USC and No. 24 California. The blowout wins continued against Oregon, Pacific (from the Big West) and No. 15 Stanford, but the fun would end one Saturday in Tucson, Arizona when the 12th ranked Arizona Wildcats used an excellent defensive game plan to stymie Washington’s offense in a 16-3 upset. The Huskies saw their national title dreams take a hard hit to the chin, and a couple weeks later rival Washington State, led by Drew Brees at quarterback, would extend the pain with a 42-23 defeat in the Apple Cup.

The Huskies would still advance to the Rose Bowl thanks to a defeat of Stanford earlier in the season, but the Big Ten champs handed Washington one more defeat, by way of a 38-31 result in the 1993 Rose Bowl. The 1992 season was also plagued by the news that several Washington players were found to be receiving benefits, including 1991 starting quarterback Billy Joe Hobert, who remained on the team. Though not charged with any direct violations, head coach Don James would eventually resign from his position (in August, 1993) in protest of what he believed to be unfair NCAA sanctions against Washington.

The Pac-10’s bowl results did not do too much to provide much positive energy in the conference at the time. Stanford would finish the season in the AP Top 10 after defeating Penn State in the Blockbuster Bowl (now the Russel Athletic Bowl) and Washington State would defeat Utah in the Copper Bowl (now the Valley of the Sun Bowl) but USC (now defunct Freedom Bowl vs. Fresno State), Arizona (Sun Bowl vs. Baylor), Oregon (Independence Bowl vs. Wake Forest) all failed to win their bowl games.

50 Years Ago in the Athletic Association of Western Universities

Conference Champion: USC (11-0, 4-0)

Before the days of the Pac-12, Pac-10 and even the Pac-8, there was the Western Athletic Association of Western Universities. The conference was made up of six members at the time, including national champion and national powerhouse USC, who would go on to play an undefeated season topped with a Rose Bowl victory against Wisconsin. The first national championship in USC’s storied history came in head coach John McKay’s third season on the job and followed a 4-5 season.

John McKay

USC head coach John McKay led the Trojans to their
first national championship in 1962.

The Trojans started the season out of the rankings but after upsetting No. 8 Duke 14-7, USC was placed in the top ten the following week and never looked back. USC blew out Southern Methodist on the road (33-3) the following week and shot out Iowa in Big Ten country (7-0). the undefeated streak continued with a home win against California and another road victory in the Big Ten by beating Illinois 28-16. USC moved in to the top spot in the rankings in the middle of November with a home victory against Navy, 13-6, and with top-ranked Alabama losing at Georgia Tech. All that stood between USC and a national championship was a road game at UCLA (14-3 victory) and a home game against rival Notre Dame (25-0 victory).

The Trojans advanced to the Rose Bowl, where they would face Wisconsin. The Trojans had already been labeled the unofficial national champions with the final AP poll released with USC on top. Wisconsin was ranked second with a record of 8-2 (Alabama was 10-1 and No. 3 Ole Miss was 10-0) in the poll to set the stage for a classic match-up in Pasadena. It would be the first time the top two ranked teams would face in the Rose Bowl. The game set a number of Rose Bowl records as USC jumped out to a 42-14 lead heading to the fourth quarter and the Badgers put together a flurry to make a game of it late. Five of the eleven records set in the 1963 Rose Bowl still stand today

Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. College Football Hall of Fame voter. Also managing Bloguin's NittanyLionsDen.com and Macho-Row.com.

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